Denny Hamlin overcame an early wreck and won a wild, crash-filled Sprint Unlimited in overtime Saturday at Daytona International Speedway.
Hamlin was automatically credited the win when a caution waved for a six-car crash midway through Turns 1 and 2 on the final lap in the first run of NASCAR’s new overtime procedure.
The new protocol, introduced Thursday, allows only one extra attempt at a green-white-checkered finish but not if the leader has passed the “overtime line” on the first attempt—which was the case Saturday.
When the caution waved, Hamlin needed to only cruise to the finish line in order to pick up his second Sprint Unlimited win in three years. It was his third overall.
He celebrated accordingly, as shown by NASCAR:
Here is a look at the rest of the top 10:
|6||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.|
With new crew chief Mike Wheeler, Hamlin led a race-high 39 laps to give his Joe Gibbs Racing team its fourth Sprint Unlimited win in the last five years.
Hamlin overcame a wreck on Lap 13 after being pinned by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The wreck led to body damage on the right side of his No. 11 Toyota. Stenhouse, who blew a tire in Turn 2, nicked Hamlin when sliding down the 31-degree banking while trying to maintain control.
But Hamlin told his crew before reaching pit road the car felt fine, despite taking body damage to the right side, per Jordan Bianchi of SB Nation:
Denny Hamlin tells team damaged car feels "OK."— Jordan Bianchi (@Jordan_Bianchi) February 14, 2016
Hamlin’s biggest competition of the night was Brad Keselowski, who led 26 laps and also overcame trouble early and late before settling for ninth place.
Keselowski was nearly in the midst of a major wreck with three laps to go when he nicked the rear right quarter panel of Carl Edwards, sending Edwards barreling into the wall and propelling a six-car crash.
Keselowski, meanwhile, crept through the melee largely unscathed. Here is a look at the colossal crash, courtesy of NASCAR:
Keselowski also got a big break early when a caution came out on Lap 13 as his car was overheating and spewing water from the radiator.
By virtue of running out front the first 10 laps, Keselowski was first on the firing lines to pick up debris on what he described to his crew as quite a dirty track, per Jeff Gluck of USA Today:
Keselowski: "Whole damn track is plastic bags. Sorry man."— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) February 14, 2016
Keselowski had to pit twice during the caution—first to remove debris and add water to his overheating engine and again to conduct a standard pit stop to add tires and fuel.
Just after the restart, Brian Vickers blew a tire heading into Turn 1 and nicked Dale Earnhardt Jr. while sliding down the track. Then Vickers took a nasty lick coming back up the banking as Kevin Harvick slammed him at full speed into the wall.
Vickers immediately pulled his window net down to let everyone know he was OK, but his night was over with the massive damage his car took.
Xfinity Racing shared an image of the clobbered car laying on the infield grass between Turns 1 and 2:
Vickers elaborated on the crash from the infield care center to the Fox Sports telecast:
It’s unfortunate. I think we just cut a right rear tire. I don’t know we cut it yet. The 2 [Keselowski] and I were kind of getting tighter down the straightway, but we had a little contact with the 18 [Kyle Busch] early on and maybe it got into the tire—I’m not sure.
But I felt it going down the straightaway, and at that point, I started to roll out. But when you’re going 200 miles per hour, there’s nothing you can do.
JR Motorsports communications director Mike Davis indicated Vickers shouldn’t field any blame, given the accident manifested out of a cut tire, not driver error:
Not Vickers' fault. Tire went down. It was pretty obvious.— Mike Davis (@MikeDavis88) February 14, 2016
Earnhardt Jr., Harvick, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger all took damage on the crash.
Harvick wasn’t pleased with the accident, feeling somewhat apologetic for his team, but he also took it in stride, given Saturday’s race was merely an exhibition.
“If you’re going to wreck, I guess tonight is the night to wreck,” Harvick told the Fox Sports telecast, alluding to next weekend’s Daytona 500.
Harvick and Busch are Vickers’ teammates at Stewart-Haas Racing, though Vickers is only filling in part-time for three-time Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart, who suffered major back injuries in an all-terrain vehicle accident two weeks ago.
It was Vickers' first race in 11 months after being sidelined with blood clots. He’ll be in the No. 14 Chevrolet throughout Speedweeks at Daytona.
Jimmie Johnson drew the third caution on Lap 44 when Casey Mears slid across the backstretch and pushed Johnson sideways into the grass, where he cut off his entire grill.
NASCAR shared an aerial view of Johnson spinning off the backstretch to pick up his fifth straight DNF in the Sprint Unlimited:
Crew chief Chad Knaus offered an optimistic outlook over the radio despite ending their night, per Team Lowe’s Racing:
Knaus: "Gotta give you props right there Jimmie. You're a hell of a driver. Good dress rehearsal tonight, we learned a lot."— Team Lowe's Racing (@LowesRacing) February 14, 2016
In the midst of a three-wide pack, Johnson maneuvered away as the only car to take damage. He acknowledged it was difficult to avoid collecting others as he worked his way inward.
"I did a decent job of backing out of there and not causing a big one as the door shut on me,” a frustrated Johnson told the Fox Sports telecast.
Shortly after they went green again, Kasey Kahne drew the fifth caution when taking an aggressive bump draft from Jamie McMurray on Lap 57 that slammed Kahne into Allmendinger.
Here is a look at the crash, courtesy of NASCAR:
“One-hundred percent my fault,” McMurray said over his radio. “I just was trying to get [Kahne] the push I could since we were stuck there on the bottom.”
Allmendinger, however, was not pleased, per Gluck:
Replay shows Kasey Kahne got half-spun by McMurray I think. Allmendinger is pissed, calls McMurray a "(freaking) idiot."— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) February 14, 2016
Kahne brought out another caution with 10 to go when his car was ejecting smoke in Turn 2, well away from the pack.
Out of the 25 that entered the race, there were only 14 cars lined up on the final restart. Tire troubles seemed prevalent throughout, which could be a troublesome indicator for drivers as they prepare for next Sunday’s Daytona 500.
In restrictor plate races where cars flock in a massive pack via draft at 200-plus miles per hour, being the leader in the final laps isn’t always ideal. Depending on which lane has the most momentum, whoever is in first can be a sitting duck to get passed quickly.
Hamlin admitted that was on his mind as the field took the green on the final restart, but he ultimately stayed with teammate Matt Kenseth, per Reid Spencer of NASCAR.com:
It was just such a dilemma for me to figure out what lane to start in. I had gotten good pushes from Matt all night long, and I hated leaving him in that top line, but I felt like I'd had success on the bottom all night, and I didn't want to leave it for that final restart.
The race winner also continues to recover from ACL surgery January—a procedure that requires most athletes at least nine to 12 months of recovery. And despite taking the checkers first in a convincing win, Hamlin admitted he’s not yet fully healthy, per Bob Pockrass of ESPN.com:
Hamlin said his knee is 75 percent, fine in the car. #nascar— Bob Pockrass (@bobpockrass) February 14, 2016
Hamlin elaborated by saying the physical impairments don’t surface while he’s behind the wheel.
"The knee is good," Hamlin said in Victory Lane, per Pockrass. "I'm about 75 percent. I'm not anywhere close to doing anything sports related for a while. In the car, I'm good. Any time we have any kind of surgeries or anything, usually we win the next race."We're just continuing that trend.”
Reigning Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano finished second Saturday, but was fine with being the bridesmaid given the recent history of drivers transitioning from the Unlimited to the Great American Race, per Gluck:
Joey Logano jokes the "silver lining on this whole thing" (finishing second) is no one has won both the Unlimited and the 500 since 2000.— Jeff Gluck (@jeff_gluck) February 14, 2016
Though 13 drivers—more than half the field—failed to finish, Saturday’s Unlimited is a good gauge for who will run strong in Speedweeks, as most drivers, when possible, keep their same car throughout the week of action in Daytona.